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Color Me Good

Color is powerful.

And, color selection is even more so. It can make or break a design. In my earliest art classes, each professor — when teaching color theory basics — always stressed that you can truly test the strength of a layout by looking at it in black & white because color has the power to “trick” the eye into thinking a design is better (or worse) that it actually is.

But just because you get a design to look awesome in black & white doesn’t mean that once you slap colors into the mix things will look just as good… or better.

As such, color selection always seems to be one of the trickiest points for me when working on a new project. I find myself questioning everything: Is the red too red? Is that tint really going to work?

Even though Pantonethe world’s authority on color — claims to have the secrets to selecting perfect combos of the most trendy colors, I find that experimentation leads to the most original and most harmonious results.

And, even if after playing around I still draw a blank, I know I have a back-up combo I can rely on. As Roger Black attests, you can’t go wrong with the classics (for both Web and print design): Red, White, and Black.

But sometimes you want more than that.

You want to try something different. In those cases when you’re stuck in color selection hell, what tricks and tips do you have to finding the perfect colors for a design?

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ARCHIVE ID 1264 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Oct.09.2002 BY joy olivia
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Armin’s comment is:

>stuck in color selection hell.

When I'm really stuck and don't know where to turn, I go crying to Google image searches. Hold on, here is why. Try a search on Art Nouveau and watch some pretty combinations come up. Then I download some of the pictures I've found and match the RGB values to CMYK or PMS colors.

And if you want snappier colors try a Pop Art search.

That's just one of the things I do. If I'm really desperate I'll just open illustrator's PMS palette and click away untill something happens.

On Oct.09.2002 at 09:11 AM
Kiran’s comment is:

Shouldn't the subject matter, audience, and client, ie the "nature" of the project determine the color choice? Why should the choice be made arbitrarily or using safe "default" colors such as red, white and black? Design isn't inherently arbitray so how can color choice be?

On Oct.09.2002 at 12:06 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>Shouldn't the subject matter, audience, and client, ie the "nature" of the project determine the color choice?

It does. But I think we are talking about times when there is absolutely no other means of developing a color scheme. Those times when you wanna cry like a baby and assume a fetal position under your desk so you can rock back and forth uncontrollably.

But just in those cases, otherwise yes, the nature of the business, the target audience and other business-like factors should determine colors.

On Oct.09.2002 at 12:20 PM
Joy Olivia’s comment is:

I understand your point, but I was leaning toward discussing solution resources for when working on more abstract, open-ended projects.

Sometimes color isn't dictated by the client -- by all means, of course if you are told to use PMS 201 and PMS 456... what else are you really going to do but use those colors. But sometimes you're starting completely from scratch. Say, you're working on a logo for a new non-profit for kids. Bold colors work well for kids but what combo of colors and which specific PMS numbers to use can be hard to pin down at first -- especially when details from the client are consistently morphing.

When put into a situation where your client provides little, sketchy, or no guidance -- such as stuff like "Do whatever you want! Make it look cool. You're the designer." -- where do you look for color inspiration?

Even after putting myself into the client's shoes, getting everything nailed down has been a challenge for me in the past.

For example, earlier this fall, I was assigned a job (for something completely new); it was to design a postcard that incorporated no graphics or photography -- only include type. I was provided with a similar, "Just be creative"-type of suggestion when I asked about color once they approved the intial layout.

This sort of situation, primarily, is what I'm talking about... when a project doesn't automatically offer up ideas for color choice, what are suggestions for places to get ideas?

On Oct.09.2002 at 12:25 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>"Just be creative"

Getting a little bit off topic... but don't you ever feel like you have no clue as to what to do when a client says that?

When they set restrictions and give some direction, at least you know where to start.

Now, where to get ideas for colors? art books, poster annuals, life (oh my god, that is soooo corny), cereals (lucky charms has a bunch of colors), clothes you are wearing. I think you just need to keep your eyes open.

On Oct.09.2002 at 12:56 PM
steven lyons’s comment is:

> "For example, earlier this fall, I was assigned a job (for something completely new); it was to design a postcard that incorporated no graphics or photography -- only include type. I was provided with a similar, "Just be creative"-type of suggestion when I asked about color once they approved the intial layout. "

Weird, I had the EXACT same request about 3 weeks ago for a postcard project. I ended up using a color I had picked for their logo/website design earlier last year. That color culminated from looking at the audience and slowly weeding out colors that didn't apply to them.

Or if you get really desperate, you can just go get that Color Index book by Jim Krause that my wife uses. I have to admit, it has some good and interesting color combinations in it.

On Oct.09.2002 at 01:12 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Off topic again, but still on color.

Some scientific dudes came up with the color of the universe. No kidding. First they said it was kind of TURQUOISE, but they messed up. Then they got it right and figured out that the color of the universe is this.

On Oct.09.2002 at 02:52 PM
Jon’s comment is:

what pantone number was that?

On Oct.09.2002 at 05:02 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I think it might be in one of those pastel Pantone books.

And these are the names they considered for the color. My favorite is "Primordial Clam Chowder".

Boy... it's been a looooong day.

On Oct.09.2002 at 05:11 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

My favorite method is one I 'stole' from the designers at the Walker.

They put all of their leftover pantone chips in a bag. When a project comes through, someone blindly picks the number of colors needed for the job out of the bag.

Of course, that probably works better for a place like the Walker than for an actual client...

On Oct.09.2002 at 05:25 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>They put all of their leftover pantone chips in a bag.

That's a good technique, but what would be more fun is put them inside a pi´┐Żata and then dive for the falling chips.

Every now and then I will go through the loose chips, my guess is, if at some point I considered using one of those colors, why not now?

On Oct.10.2002 at 01:56 PM